THUNDER BAY —Family and friends of Barbara Kentner hugged one another outside the Courthouse Hotel after learning the man charged in connection to her death had been convicted of manslaughter after he threw a metal trailer hitch at Kentner’s abdomen and ruptured her small intestine nearly four years ago in Thunder Bay.
“It’s a good outcome and it’s what we wanted,” Kentner’s younger sister, Connie said to reporters after learning Bushby’s verdict on Monday, Dec. 14.
“It would have been better if it was a murder (charge),” she said.
Kentner’s older sister, Melissa, who was with Barbara when she was struck by the trailer hitch on the night of Jan. 29, 2017, said she is relieved Bushby, now 22, was found guilty but said she is angry Bushby will remain out of custody on bail conditions awaiting sentencing.
“He gets to go spend holidays with his family,” she said. “He still able to walk the streets until his sentence date.”
Melissa explained how Kentner’s only daughter, Serena, is fighting cancer and is currently in southern Ontario.
“It aggravates me because right now I can’t be with her. I have to be here,” she said.
Defence counsel George Joseph spoke briefly with the media after the verdict and stated his client was disappointed with the outcome of Monday’s verdict.
“We argued for something other than what was resulted but that is part of the job, not getting what you want,” Joseph said.
The trial focused on the issue of causation and whether or not the injury Kentner sustained in January was a significant contributing factor in her death approximately five months later.
Bushby had previously pleaded not guilty to one count of manslaughter at the start of his trial but pleaded guilty to aggravated assault in connection to the incident. His trial took place over four days in early November.
Bushby was initially charged with second-degree murder but that charge was later withdrawn and changed to manslaughter and aggravated assault. Now that he has been convicted of manslaughter, he will only be sentenced on this charge.
“Because Mr. Bushby was found guilty of manslaughter which was the more serious charge, the court doesn’t sentence him on the lesser serious aggravated assault because that aggravated assault was part of the manslaughter for which he was convicted,” Crown attorney Andrew Sadler said to media personnel outside the Courthouse Hotel on Monday.
Before Superior Court Justice Helen M. Pierce announced her verdict, she gave a summary of the fatal trailer hitch assault, the extensive and complicated medical history of Kentner and the reasons behind her decision.
Pierce started her decision by offering condolences to the family and friends of Kentner.
Kentner suffered a perforated bowel as a result of being hit by a trailer hitch Bushby threw in the early morning hours of Jan. 29, 2017. Kentner required an emergency high-risk operation several hours after the assault in order to repair the internal injury.
She died approximately five months later in July 2017. A post-mortem examination completed three days after Kentner died determined her death was caused by complications arising from the blunt force injury to her abdomen and liver failure was a contributing factor.
Court heard Bushby had been ice-fishing and drinking earlier in the day before the assault took place. One witness who was in the car with Bushby prior to the assault taking place described him as “getting rowdy”. He had even jumped out of the vehicle to retrieve the heavy metal trailer hitch from the road.
Kentner was walking with her sister, Melissa, along the side of the road when she was struck.
By pleading guilty to the aggravated assault charge, the Crown proved beyond a reasonable doubt Bushby committed an unlawful and dangerous act by hurling the hitch at Kentner.
“He knew it was heavy enough to cause damage,” Pierce said.
Bushby’s lawyer had argued Bushby was not responsible for Kentner’s death stating there were several intervening acts that made it impossible to say for certain the injury Kentner sustained significantly contributed to her death.
“Specifically the Defence identifies the delay in Ms. Kentner’s accessing medical treatment following her injury,” Pierce said.
Kentner was injured shortly after 1 a.m. on Jan. 29, 2017, and was admitted into hospital on the same day, approximately 13 hours after she was injured. Court heard Kentner wanted to go to the hospital right after she had been hit through a recorded police video statement played during the trial. However, Melissa stated in her witness testimony Kentner didn’t want to go to the hospital that night and wished to sleep and see how she felt later on.
Pierce rejected the defence’s argument on this submission.
“In my view, it is not necessary to reconcile contradictions in evidence between Barbara Kentner and her sister Melissa,” Pierce said, adding at the time of the assault it was reasonably foreseeable Kentner wouldn’t have received medical attention because she had been injured late at night, while she and her sister were alone and on foot.
Kentner’s medical records entered as exhibits throughout the trial showed she left against medical advice after her abdominal surgery to repair her injury from the assault. Joseph noted the surgery itself was successful according to medical records, which forensic pathologist Dr. Toby Rose agreed with.
Crown counsel argued Bushby’s moral culpability was still intact even if a healthier person may have recovered from the same injury.
“I agree with Crown’s submission that Mr. Bushby must take his victim as he finds them: in declining health and sometimes non-compliant with medical care,” Pierce said.
A contested sentencing hearing for Bushby is scheduled for early February where Kentner’s family is expected to give victim impact statements to the court.